We are in the eighth month of COVID-19, but we have seen environmental racism harm our most vulnerable communities for years.
This pandemic has brought two unassailable facts to the community of Boston: One, the most vulnerable amongst us suffers the greatest in a crisis, and two, all of our systems are interconnected. COVID-19 has ravaged Boston’s poorer neighborhoods and adjoining Chelsea with absolute viciousness while many white-collar communities have been able to depend on the structures of our society, like health care, to provide their basic daily needs. COVID has brought the cracks of our system to the forefront, and this Nov 3, we have an opportunity to mobilize, vote, and change the way our future looks, through a Biden leadership.
We are in the eighth month of dealing with COVID-19, but we have seen environmental racism harm our most vulnerable communities for years. Let’s take tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and buses for example; more than 372,000 Latino residents, 283,000 African American residents, and 231,000 Asian American residents live in areas of Massachusetts where pollution is above the state average, while almost 70% of all white residents live in areas with concentrations below the state average. Meanwhile, the federal government has offered little to no assistance in health care for these communities and has even rolled back what clean air protections we had for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry.
At this critical moment when there is mounting evidence of the adverse health outcomes of long-term exposure to air pollution, we must elect politicians who will champion policies that reduce climate emissions and protect our health, such as transportation electrification, while meeting the urgency of the climate, public health, and economic crises. Boston deserves a reimagining and electrification of our systems resulting in cleaner air and improved health and well-being for all Massachusetts residents. One way to bring change to Massachusetts is to elect a federal government that will lead on these issues, forcing Massachusetts in the right direction, where our current state government is failing. With Gov. Baker leading, our legislative proposals are much less aggressive in protecting our vulnerable communities than what is possible under both Vice President Biden’s climate platform and Sen. Markey’s Green New Deal.
It is well understood that the way to avert climate disaster is by lowering climate pollution significantly in the next decade. Massachusetts has set a target for reducing emissions to net zero by 2050 and is working on interim targets for 2030 and 2040 to get to that goal. Those commitments will stay just that—mere commitments—unless our legislature takes action. Well, we elect our legislators. We elect our president. We elect those who represent us. And we know that climate solutions are a popular platform. Sen. Markey won in a landslide campaigning with climate as his key issue.
We know that climate change is intersectional. It will impact everyone, and those living in environmental justice communities the most. Given this new lens of experience through COVID and the countless climate disasters our country has faced this summer, there is an underlying necessity to provide a foundation for our neighbors in these communities. With the accelerating impacts of climate change, more catastrophic events will come to Boston, and we need measures that protect vulnerable populations throughout the state to better weather, recover, and survive any crisis.
The good news is there are ways for us to make a difference and create a vision of the Boston we want through engagement, elections, and policies offering resilience for our frontline communities, while both mitigating climate change and acting as a job stimulus. Get involved if you want to help create a more just and equitable society where the marginalized, the disenfranchised, can be uplifted. The creation of a more just and equitable world will not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.
It’s time to act. For our health. For our community. For our economy. For #BidenHarris and for climate solutions.
Rev. Vernon K. Walker is a Massachusetts Sierra Club executive committee member and the public policy director of the Young Democrats of Massachusetts.